Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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October 16, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Mike Carroll admits to “falling in love with technology”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series about local business executive and entrepreneur Mike Carroll.)

Local business executive Michael Carroll freely admits that he has a habit of “falling in love with technology.”

Today, that translates into 14 companies that are part of a portfolio of small businesses, although two are inactive. There are six others that are “in play” and likely to be formed or acquired.

Most would consider managing such a large mix a challenge, but Carroll says “work is now more like art or a hobby,” something that he says has become smoother over the years as he has recruited and maintained very high performance individuals to the team.

“I cannot say enough good things about the people that I get to work with,” Carroll emphasizes. “We have been blessed with interesting projects for sure, but most importantly with incredible people that continually encourage and inspire each other. It’s truly amazing.”

One such recent addition is well-known local entrepreneur Chris Van Beke.

“Chris goes deep and I go wide,” Carroll says of the team. “I like getting my hands involved in the details of the business which limits my bandwidth for strategy. Adding Chris has allowed me to do what I do best.”

Carroll’s journey to owning a collection of companies started early in life as he closely observed two of three individuals who would serve as key mentors. First was his dad who advised him that “you can’t be guided by fear.” Another was his father’s employer, local start-up legend Dr. Sam Weaver, an individual whom Carroll “first observed through my dad’s eyes” and who would later help provide a safety cushion at a much-needed time in Carroll’s life.

As an engineering coop student at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus, Carroll met his third mentor – Dr. Frank Speckhart who Carroll says “took me under his wing.” In fact, Carroll says at least two of his current projects “trace their roots” to knowledge he gained under Speckhart’s tutelage.

Carroll worked during his student years for the Engineering Division of Union Carbide Corporation that managed all three Oak Ridge facilities of the Department of Energy and continued his employment there after graduation.

He recalls a management training program that had the “coolest exercise.” The class was asked to take a stack cards and organize them in order of values from most important to least important to them. The values included items like risk, structure and procedures. Carroll said that the next phase of the exercise involved evaluating his current work to see how the work aligned with these values.

For him, it was a life-changing moment. “I realized I could not work there,” Carroll said. “My dad was almost in tears. He told Dr. Weaver who offered me a job.”

Carroll said that, although he “only worked for him for two years,” it was a “very influential” period.

“I was hired as a mechanical engineer, but Weaver quickly gave me the keys to one of his businesses – American Furnace Company.” Carroll ran the enterprise for two years while helping Weaver sell it to the legendary venture capitalist Otto Wheeley.

At 27 years of age and with a small nest egg produced by his stake in American Furnace, Carroll launched out on his own, founding Machine Kinetics Corporation, the company now known as MK Technologies.

“Everything else leveraged from that company,” Carroll said. “I love deals. I’m passionate about dreaming and about what we can do” with a company.

NEXT: Building MK Technologies portfolio.          

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